A new year at our house always brings some quiet moments for reflection. You all know by now that reflection time for me always results in a long post! Here it is.
A couple years ago, I read about the idea of focusing on a word each year. I was curious about the concept, so I prayed about it and God brought a single word to mind. The word was 'Listen'.
January 2021, that word got written on a fresh page in my journal. I wasn't sure what to do with it initially, but as the days passed, I started intentionally seeking God about the concept of listening. At first I assumed I needed to work on listening to others better. Turned out it was definitely part of it, but without even realizing it, I was creating a habit of going to God and listening for His direction about the concept of listening! I had been practicing intentionally listening to God for several years at that point, but I love how He knew I needed to grow more in my ability to listen and hear Him personally before He started to teach me about listening to others. I couldn't pass on what I hadn't first received.
As the months passed, we slowly started unpacking why listening didn't always come easy for me. I had recognized for a long time that I was a great listener if the situation was one in which I felt in control. However, if someone argued or was accusatory towards me, I would get defensive and then would stop listening and get busy verbally arguing my point of view. This happened in my marriage, in parenting, in family relationships that were strained, and even spilled over into some of my friendships. I learned that my tendency to defend myself came from a deep fear of being wrong. I grew up believing the lie that my value and worth came from being right. I worked very hard to do things "right" and to always have the "right" answer. But how does one stop oneself from feeling the need to defend oneself?
The answer? You don't. And this was the next step of learning to listen. Until I fully accepted the truth that I was already accepted, valued and loved perfectly by the One who designed me, I would always feel the need to prove my own worth. On the flip side, as I began to accept that I was already completely loved and accepted, I found myself able to sit and listen when someone else was having a hard time. I started to see people differently. When someone disagreed with me, I was able to ask curious questions rather than defend myself. I was free to actually care about them as a person and not make the discussion all about me and my perceived need to be right. And finally, I was free to be open to the idea that maybe I wasn't always right. And that was okay. True freedom is being able to say, "I was wrong", or "I had never considered that" and learn from another.
This has been life-changing for me and for many of my relationships. I still get triggered, some days more often than I'd prefer. Old ways of thinking and reacting take time to heal. But, there is so much hope and healing is happening!
Funny story...when January 2022 rolled around last year, I was listening for a new word for the year. To my surprise, I wasn't given a new word. 'Listen' was still the word. So, this past year, I have continued to dig deeper into what it means to really listen. As I have accepted the truth that I have nothing to prove, my ability to listen has grown so much.
This past year, this concept of listening grew to encompass more than simply listening to God and intentionally listening to others. While I have continued to grow in both those areas, I started digging deep into listening when I was out in nature, enjoying all the beauty there is to hear. I have been learning about listening to my animals. There is a depth of relationship available between me and all our animals that I had never realized before.
I have been learning to really listen to myself; another concept that used to be foreign to me. Listening to my body and making choices that support what I physically need and not just what is convenient or easy in the moment. Things like proper rest, good fuel at mealtimes, daily movement, fresh air, pursing passions, learning new things, etc. And then there is the whole concept of listening to my soul: what am I thinking about, feeling, reacting to, choosing? In listening to what is going on inside myself, I am learning that true change only happens when I start to allow Truth to change my mind about what I believe.
Behavior always follows belief (thanks Janet Newberry for that thought!), so my behavior won't change until my beliefs change. And my beliefs won't change for the good until I am willing to actually stop and listen to the One who is Truth, allowing Him to exchange the lies that are buried deep in my mind for the truth. If we get the order mixed up, trying to change outward behaviors without ever addressing the belief driving those behaviors, we will find ourselves stuck on an endless cycle of defeat and discouragement. So grateful to have been shown the way off that hamster wheel!
A few weeks ago, I started praying and listening for a new word, curious if 2023 would be another year of digging even deeper into the concept of listening or if the focus was going to change. Last week, I was gifted with a new word. Freedom.
I smiled to myself when it came to mind. Of course Freedom is the new word. Freedom is what I have already been discovering as I have grown in my ability to listen. Freedom is the natural result of learning and walking in the Truth.
I have already experienced so much freedom in my life in the past 8 years or so, as Conrad and I have been on this journey of unlearning everything we thought we knew about God and relationship, and relearning the truth about who God is and who we really are.
This week I am stepping into the New Year fully aware that I have already been gifted complete freedom in Jesus. I can't get anymore freedom because He has already given it to me in full measure!
"It is for freedom that Christ set you free". Galatians 5:1
However, I am looking ahead with so much anticipation as I know this year is going to be about learning in deeper ways how to enjoy the freedom I have already been given.
Freedom from shame, guilt, other people's opinions, my own expectations, fear, making mistakes, etc. I know there is going to be so much more, and as the lessons come I hope to share them here.
So, Happy New Year, friends!
May the year ahead be one of discovering freedom for you as well.
Lies Seem True the Longer We Live in Darkness
Years ago I led a mission trip to Bermuda. Yea, I know. You are thinking a mission trip to a beautiful island? Well, people there need a relationship with Jesus, too. One night I was walking back to the home where I was staying during the trip. There were no lights as I walked and every sound produced fearful thoughts that I was about to be jumped. Soon, I saw a dark figure headed straight for me. My thoughts raced just as fast as my heart. "Here it comes" I thought. I am definitely going to get jumped. As this island native approached, I prepared for fight or flight. Then...he said, "Hello" and kept walking. I had believed lies because in the darkness of the night my thoughts seemed like reality. While believing those lies, my feelings were following right along and made what I believed seem even more true. This story illustrates our spiritual lives. The longer we live in darkness in any area of our lives, the more the lies in our head seem true. Let me give you some examples of common lies Christians believe. "I have to obey God for Him to bless me and love me." Not true. We obey God because we are responding to our confidence that He already loves us and has already blessed us in Christ with everything we need to live our lives. "What I do defines who I am." Not true. My spiritual birth defines who I am. My faith in Christ gave me a new spiritual birth. Knowing who I am in Christ will directly affect my behavior and obedience to God." "I am sinning and disobeying God because I am not committed enough to Him." Not true. While we certainly need to be 'submitted' to God, being more committed to God often means deciding that we will try harder to obey Him. Instead, we need to ask Christ to live His life through us so we can obey God and His Word. Jesus said in John 8:32, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free". If His truth sets us free then what keeps us imprisoned? Obviously lies! Why don't we ask God to show us the lies we are believing about Him, ourselves and others so He can replace those with His truth. Until next time remember He loves us!
Here is a wonderful article about casting and carrying burdens written by Anabel Gillham.
Cast or Carry Burdens
Cast or Carry?
When a person comes into your life bringing his bag of problems with him, when a person carries grief and stress and pain into your world, when a person causes chaos over which you have no control, what do you do?
How do you deal with the pressure of painful encounters and fragmented relationships? With angry, rebellious people? With divorce, sickness, bitterness, and death? With loneliness? With the circumstance that you never dreamed would be a part of your life? With the weight of the burden that has worn out your emotions and left you physically exhausted? How do you handle it?
The Bible, our love letter, tells us in Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you.” Let’s paraphrase that: “Get rid of that burden; throw it on the Lord; fling it at His feet. Don’t sneak up to give it to Him. To cast means to throw forcefully. Once you have done that, He promises that He will take care of you, sustain you; He promises to be your sustenance.”
What sort of sustenance is the psalmist talking about here? It’s not physical—not food or drink. I need emotional sustenance. Emotional relief. I need stability, strength, and wisdom. I need peace, the therapy of rest. I need the calmness that comes when I know that everything is under the control of an authority figure, a professional, someone I can trust, someone who knows what to do. That’s exactly the sort of sustenance Psalm 55:22 is talking about.
Our desire for acceptance is so ingrained that we will often try to become what others want us to be in our quest to define our identity. It reminds me of a scene in the movie, "The Bourne Identity". Jason Bourne, having amnesia, is desperate to discover who he really is. He ends up opening a safety deposit box in hopes that his true identity will be revealed. As he unpacks the box, he is surprised by a stack of passports. To his dismay, each one has his photo on it under a different name. He is obviously shaken and puzzled as he realizes he has been a different person in different parts of the world under a different name each time. He leaves no closer to knowing who he is than before. We often allow ourselves to take on the identity of the people we associate with. It might be one with our family, one at work, one with our friends on Facebook and another at church.
One blessing in understanding the Gospel of grace is that we discover we have an unchanging, unshakeable identity in Christ. We are the beloved children of God. "What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it-we're called children of God!" 1 John 3:1a. As God's sons and daughters, we are holy, chosen, blameless, forgiven, accepted and so much more.Let me put it another way, our new nature is our identity in Christ. Our new nature is the new norm for defining us. Let that sink in. It's not our past, our successes or failures, our sins, our Biblical knowledge, the opinions of others or our performance in any area of life.
I've been teaching a more complete understanding of the Gospel for 25 years. The more I share it, the more I realize that understanding our identity in Christ frees us to be our true selves. We are each unique in our personality, spiritual gifts, God-given talents, personal passions and even body type. Ephesians 2:10 says it this way. "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in."
When we rest in our identity in Christ, we begin to discover and rest in our divine design. We can accept our personality type as the way God "hard-wired" us rather than wishing we were someone else. For example, if you are a high C on the DISC Profile, then God designed you to be very conscientious. Yet, many with this temperament wish they were high I's who are extroverts and tend to be the life of the party.
It's like a lighting store our Director of Counseling, Tom Short, told us about recently. It displays every shape and color of light bulb you could ever imagine: each one showing the light within uniquely. In the same way, God designed you to be a special shape and color to express Himself through. Isn't that freeing?
Why don't you tell your Father that you are standing firm in your identity in Christ today and that you accept yourself as the unique person God designed you to be. Christ in you is a gift to the world. Being confident in your identity in Christ will unleash the unique you to influence this world for God's glory, other's transformation and your joy.
Live Free in Christ,
Founder & President of Grace Life International
Date: Saturday, 26 July 2014